EDUCATION
January 4, 2021

Top Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Programs 2021

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) represents the highest level of training a nurse can pursue. Those who earn this degree elevate not only themselves, but the entire nursing profession. 

In a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, you'll learn executive leadership skills and clinical expertise, and have the potential to come out of it with heightened job security and generous compensation. But deciding to embark on this path is not something that anybody should take lightly. 

The DNP degree is the gold standard for nursing leadership and it takes a significant investment of time and money. 

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree offers, what pursuing it requires, and which programs are the cream of the crop.

Top Doctor of Nursing Practice Programs 2021

Here are the top 10 Doctor of Nursing Practice programs of 2021 according to U.S. News and World Report.

School Graduate Nursing Degrees Offered Number of Full-Time Faculty Number of Graduate Nursing Students DNP Tuition

Columbia University

Master’s, Ph.D., DNP

82 717 $64,230

University of Washington

Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 80 554 $40,029

Johns Hopkins University

 
Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 84 788

$1,772 per credit

Duke University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 83 828

$1,838 per credit

Vanderbilt University

Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 140 892 $1,642 per credit

University of Illinois -Chicago

Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 111 914 $35,414

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 93 330 $41,670
Emory University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 93 566

$1,622 per credit

Ohio State University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 95 941

2,719 per credit

Rush University Master’s, Ph.D., DNP 136 1,239

$1,110 per credit

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What is a Doctor of Nursing Practice? 

A Doctor of Nursing Practice is a doctoral degree that represents the highest level of training in the school of nursing.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice is the name of a graduate degree and tends to be confused with a nurse practitioner (NP), which is a career title for nurses that have achieved a Master's of Science in Nursing and post-master's licensure. Nurse practitioners are clinicians and may attach DNP to their title to represent their level of training.

The DNP degree was created in 2004 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Its creation responded to a need for nurses with the skills and training for executive leadership positions. 

This graduate degree concentrates on evidence-based practice, systems leadership, and improved responses to an evolving healthcare environment.  

Nurses that earn DNPs are experts in their specialty area and frequently serve in leadership roles within the healthcare industry.

Benefits of Getting Your DNP 

As the need for healthcare expands, so will the demand for nurses with advanced degrees such as DNPs. These professionals will increasingly be looked to for their clinical expertise and leadership. And, as a result, they will be elevated to positions of greater responsibility and impact. 

Leadership positions in the healthcare industry command higher levels of compensation and more career opportunities. They also provide opportunities as educators for the next generation of nurses. 

The benefits of earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree include: 

  • Achieving the highest level of credentialing in the nursing field
  • Career opportunities in executive-level leadership roles
  • Recognition for achievements in the healthcare industry
  • Increased salary and compensation

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What Can You Do With a DNP? 

The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree was created in response to a need for nurses to serve executive-level roles within America’s healthcare system.

DNP programs provide advanced nursing expertise that translates to better patient outcomes and a more effective healthcare system. Graduates work in hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing and residential care facilities, outpatient care centers, and government roles. 

Positions for DNPs

Typical positions held by DNP-degreed nurses include: 

  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • CRNA
  • Patient Care Director
  • Nursing Home Administrator
  • Director of Nursing 
  • Chief Nursing Information Officer 

Specialties that Require or Benefit From a DNP 

DNP programs cover a wide range of topics. However, the following specialties benefit particularly from his advanced education.

  • Women’s health -- including obstetrics, gynecological and reproductive health, and primary care.
  • Pediatrics -- in both primary and specialty healthcare
  • Psychiatric Mental Health – in individual, group and family psychotherapy applications
  • Gerontology – including palliative and end-of-life care.
  • Nursing Education – educating patients and the general public. 

Doctor of Nursing Practice vs Master’s of Science in Nursing 

Advanced practice nursing requires a minimum of a master’s degree. However, since the establishment of the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, many nurses have wondered whether they should invest the additional time and money to achieve this highest-level degree or stick with a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Both degrees lead to advanced specialization. However, each one offers unique advantages.

Advantages of a DNP Degree Program

  • The potential to earn roughly $8,000 more per year in salary
  • More opportunities for advancement
  • Advanced training for leadership positions
  • Experience in research, data analysis, healthcare policy, and interventions
  • Access to information systems to improve patient care
  • Increased focus on clinical judgment and evidence-based care 

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Advantages of an MSN Program 

  • Shorter time to degree completion
  • Lower tuition costs
  • Paths toward advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and nurse practitioner (NP

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What Will You Learn in a DNP Program? 

DNP programs feature hands-on training for specialized advanced nursing. They also emphasize evidence-based protocols that improve patient health outcomes and prepare graduates for leadership roles. 

The curriculum provides specialization based on the student’s area of interest in addition to the following eight essential foundational competencies: 

  • Scientific Underpinnings for Practice
  • Organizational and Systems Leadership for Quality Improvement and Systems Thinking
  • Clinical Scholarship and Analytical Methods for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Information Systems/Technology and Patient Care Technology for the Improvement and Transformation of Health Care
  • Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care
  • Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
  • Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving the Nation’s Health
  • Advanced Nursing Practice 

The typical DNP program lasts four years. However, it can be condensed into three years with sufficient prerequisites and regular summer classes.

Programs include a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical practice hours and a final portfolio or practice change initiative. 

Those with a Master’s of Science in Nursing can earn a DNP degree with one or two years of full-time classes, or two to three years of part-time classes.

DNP Courses 

Though every DNP program will offer its own unique curriculum, the following list is representative of courses offered: 

  • Evidence-Based Practice I and II
  • Scholarly Writing
  • Quality Improvement and Patient Safety
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Organizations and Systems
  • Informatics for Scholarly Practice 

Can You Earn a DNP Degree Online? 

Many of the most prestigious DNP programs offer their programs online. This enables nursing students to balance education with their careers, families, and social lives. 

Online DNP programs are offered both full time and part-time. The required number of credits depends on the area of study. 

Like traditional in-person programs, online programs prepare students for board certification examinations in their specialty area. However, they tend to cost less and may be offered on a rolling basis, allowing students to begin their programs as soon as they are admitted. 

Most online DNP programs require in-person sessions over the course of the curriculum such as clinical placements at nearby facilities.

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How Much Do DNP Programs Cost? 

The average cost of a Doctor of Nursing Practice program is approximately $28,000. However, some cost little as $12,000 while others cost over $60,000. 

The cost of DNP programs vary based upon the school’s reputation, location, and whether it’s in-person or online. Private school programs tend to be more expensive while state school programs offer lower tuition to students who live in-state. 

Every accredited DNP program provides tools to pass the board certification exams. Choose a program that best suits your goals and budget. 

DNP Program Prerequisites and Requirements 

Getting accepted into an accredited DNP program is an accomplishment unto itself. The application process is rigorous, and the requirements vary based on school and type of program.

Most programs have the following minimum requirements: 

  • Registered Nurse license
  • 1-2 years of nursing experience
  • Bachelor's degree (BSN) from an accredited nursing program
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Minimum GPA in your baccalaureate or postgraduate program
  • Completion of prerequisite courses
  • Personal interviews
  • Submission of official transcript, resume or CV, and a personal statement 

DNP Program Accreditation 

Accreditation of a nursing education program is an indication of its quality and an assurance that the program’s graduates have mastered the appropriate skills and training.

When considering a program, the first thing aspiring DNP students should look for is accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Top DNP Programs 2021 

There are currently 357 accredited DNP programs with 106 new programs still in planning stages.

Though each of the programs accredited by the CCNE provides excellent education, the lists below show U.S. News and World Report’s top five programs in the most popular DNP specialty areas.

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Top DNP Administration/Management Programs

#1 – Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Tuition: $1,838 per credit 

Duke’s DNP Executive Leadership Specialty & Certificate provides the knowledge and skills that nurse leaders need to address the changing needs of today’s complex organizations and healthcare systems. 

#2 – Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 

Tuition: $1,688 per credit 

The DNP Executive Track at Johns Hopkins provides nurses with analytic skills and evidence-based practice principles needed for driving healthcare innovation and influencing policy. 

#3 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 

Tuition: $1,642 per credit 

Vanderbilt’s DNP Executive Leadership program emphasizes executive leadership in the practice arena. Graduates will be prepared to improve health care outcomes and will have a strengthened ability to guide complex care delivery. 

#4 – Rush University, Chicago, IL 

Tuition: $1,015 per credit full time 

Rush University offers two different DNP programs focusing on Transformative Leadership. The first concentrates on Population Health and aims to provide the knowledge and skills needed to enhance clinical health outcomes for patient aggregates and clinical/vulnerable populations. The Systems program provides education in effective project planning, policy advocacy and systems-level thinking. 

#5 – Emory University, Atlanta, GA 

Tuition: $1,906 per credit 

Emory University’s Post-MSN DNP Health Systems Leadership Track prepares graduates for leadership roles in analyzing, evaluating and transforming complex health care systems. 

Top DNP Nurse Practitioner: Adult/Gerontology, Acute Care Programs

#1 – Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 

Tuition: $,1,642 

Vanderbilt’s Adult-Gerontology Acute Care DNP program provides the training and education for nurse practitioners to handle complex patient situations. It focuses on advocating for population health initiatives and evidence-based health policy for adults, including older adults. 

#2 – Rush University, Chicago, IL 

Tuition: $1,015 per credit full time 

The Doctor of Nursing Practice Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nursing Practitioner program at Rush University provides all the training and education needed for advanced practice nurses in adult critical and acute care settings to help acutely or critically ill adults across the lifespan, including patient/case management and advanced technical skills. 

#3 – Duke University, Durham, NC

Tuition: $1,838 per credit 

Duke’s Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care program focuses on treating America’s aging population. It develops the knowledge and skills necessary to deliver nursing care to individuals from adolescence to older adulthood across acute care settings. 

#4 – Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 

Tuition: $1,688 

The Johns Hopkins Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner DNP program provides a rich academic and clinical environment facilitating diagnosis and management of acute and chronic health problems in adult and elderly patients. The program builds abilities in physical and psychosocial assessment, clinical decision-making, health promotion and disease prevention. 

#5 – Columbia University, New York, NY 

Tuition: $66,156 

The Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner DNP program at Columbia University prepares nurses to care for acute and critically ill patients across the continuum of acute care services. It provides a strong background in advanced assessment, therapeutics and technology as well as patient management and advanced technical skills.

Top DNP Nurse Practitioner: Family Programs

#1 – Duke University, Durham, NC 

Tuition: $1,838 per credit 

Duke University’s renowned DNP program provides those specializing in Family Medicine with the skills and knowledge to improve systems of care to influence patient outcomes, make changes to enhance quality of care, and assess published evidence to inform practice. Graduates become leaders in interdisciplinary healthcare teams and work to improve systems of care, outcomes, quality and safety. 

#2 – Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 

Tuition $1,688 per credit 

The Doctor of Nursing Practice Family Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program at Johns Hopkins enhances nursing skills in physical and psychosocial assessment, clinical decision-making, health promotion, and disease prevention. It teaches its graduates to diagnose and manage acute and chronic primary health problems across the lifespan. 

#3 – Rush University, Chicago, IL 

Tuition: $1,015 per credit full time 

Pursuing a DNP with specialization in Family Medicine prepares students to deliver comprehensive primary health care to individuals across the lifespan. The curriculum focuses on population health and social determinants of health and includes significant coursework combined with clinical experiences. 

#4 – University of Maryland – Baltimore, Baltimore, MD 

Tuition: $1,461 per credit out of state, $824 per credit in-state 

University of Maryland’s DNP Family Nurse Practitioner program develops expertise in the management of care for individuals across the life span. It emphasizes health promotion, disease prevention, and diagnosis acute and chronic diseases. 

#5 – University of Alabama – Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 

Tuition: 656 per credit 

The University of Alabama – Birmingham’s DNP Family Medicine practice begins with nurses that have completed the MSN degree in the Family Medicine program. It builds on that curriculum with a core program of study that includes didactic and clinical immersion experiences that prepare them to lead improvements in practice supportive of population health and health system change.

DNP Resources

Want more information on DNP degrees and programs? Check out these other nurse.org guides and resources:

  1. DNP Guide | Salary, Benefits & Programs
  2. CRNA vs DNP & DNAP: What's the Difference?
  3. NP vs. DNP
  4. How to Go From RN to DNP
  5. DNP vs Ph.D. in Nursing - What is the Difference?

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